Think twice before donning a skipper's hat

Houseboat on Broadwater.
Houseboat on Broadwater. 

As with supporting the Rabbitohs or eating one of those double chicken burger thingys from KFC, some ideas are better in theory than they are in practice. Exhibit A: the great amateur boating adventure.

I've long had a love of boating, of getting out in the fresh sea air and pitting my maritime skills against the forces of Mother Nature. Unfortunately, this is a battle Mother Nature usually wins because although my enthusiasm for boating is high, my maritime skills are virtually non-existent. However, it seems wrong to let a little thing like competency spoil a perfectly good travel plan, so boating manages to make its way into plenty of my adventures.

There are two types of boating trips, I've found: those skippered by someone who knows what the hell they're doing; and those with me in charge. As a general rule the former work out quite well, the latter makes for good stories when I get home.

Broadwater, the Gold Coast: a reliably placid, sheltered body of water, perfect for the amateur enthusiast to flex his maritime muscle. In theory. That's why you can hire a houseboat there without displaying so much as the lowliest of boating licences. It's also why a group of friends usually has our annual get-together there.

The idea is simple: hire a houseboat, fill it with booze, anchor it somewhere out of earshot of civilisation and go mad. We usually achieve that aim, too; it's just the getting there and getting back bits that prove a problem.

For any seasoned mariner, it would be a breeze.

The Broadwater is sheltered by islands on one side and a continent on the other. Barely any wind makes it through. It's a peaceful, easy boating passage - that is, until our clunky old houseboat comes bumbling through.

We've run aground three times. It's soft sand, so no damage is done but this is still the sort of thing that could be easily avoided with the scantest of attention to little things, like channel markers.

The dinghy tied to the back of our boat flipped over once - no idea how - and we spent half an hour dragging its downturned nose in the water before someone realised what had happened.

We organised to pick up a few tardy passengers from a marina one night and ended up trapped in a tiny corner of the dock, manoeuvring with the grace of a drunk uncle on a kiddie's tricycle. We needed a couple of people to jump into the water and spin us around by hand to ensure we didn't collect any of the million-dollar yachts moored peacefully around us.

We ran into a huge storm once, too, colossal Queensland thunderclouds hurling colossal Queensland raindrops down on our hulking beast of a boat.

We battled on bravely, naively picturing ourselves like Lieutenant Dan in Forrest Gump, howling in defiance of Mother Nature's fury. (Mostly because, like Lieutenant Dan, we were pretty well boozed by that stage.) Rather than strike a blow for humanity, though, we just bobbed around in the tumult, dangerously close to running aground again.

These incidents have caused arguments. They're like the arguments you have in a car ("Um, I think you were supposed to turn left there, honey"), only multiplied by the 15 people on board.

"How did you run aground again? I'm not pushing us this time!"

"Yeah, go into the marina, great idea, Ben!"

And so on. Come to think of it, most of the boating adventures I've been directly involved with have descended into some sort of fracas, all the way back to childhood. I can remember my dad, a qualified mariner who actually does this stuff for a living, sulkily nicknaming himself "Captain Bligh" after the rest of the family questioned a few of his navigational decisions. It was mutiny on the catamaran. Pretty soon he handed over the tiller and went to look for a beer. Smart move.

The common denominator in these water-borne incidents is, of course, me. I'm willing to believe that, despite my maritime heritage and bucketloads of enthusiasm, I'm just a crap sailor.

After all, it was me that ran us aground a couple of times in the Broadwater (how was I supposed to know which side of the marker to take?). It was me that opted to plough through the storm. And it was me that decided to go into the marina.

It has made me realise that maybe there are more relaxing ways to have a holiday on the water - like, say, hiring someone else to take charge. Someone who knows what they're doing. That would be my advice to all prospective masters and commanders: think twice before donning the skipper's hat. And don't support the Rabbitohs.

Read Ben Groundwater's column on Sundays in the Sun-Herald.

bengroundwater@gmail.com

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